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Away With Wine - Luxury Wine Tours

Bride Valley Vineyard with Steven and Bella Spurrier

Sorcha Holloway meets Steven Spurrier at his Dorset home and vineyard

steven spurrier

Steven Spurrier with Sorcha at Bride Valley

Amidst the green and rolling hills of Dorset, you will find a very special vineyard- Bride Valley. Special in its own right with south facing sun-drenched slopes and quality chalky soil, but also special because it belongs to Steven Spurrier and his lovely wife Bella.

It feels slightly surreal to find oneself sitting in the home of one of our great wine icons, drinking his fine English sparkling wine, and talking about the future of the English wine industry, especially after wandering with him through his vines. On this beautiful sunny morning the vines were just about to flower- the improvement in the weather could not have come at a better time. Steven tells us where each of the varietals are planted- Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay- and the contrast in colouring of the vine foliage can be clearly seen in the morning light. He shows us where they have planted trees as windbreaks and wild flowers to enhance the ecosystem. We encounter a few bunny rabbits scampering amongst the vines and are serenaded by the birdsong all around us. Bliss.

After many years in Paris, Steven and Bella searched for some time for the perfect family home in England, and discovered this beautiful property in Dorset after a recommendation from a friend some 30 years ago. Although Bella managed a sheep farm here for many years initially, Steven was always curious about the soil, and often wondered about planting a vineyard. He took some of the soil with him back to France for analysis by viticulture experts, who initially assumed the soil was from Champagne! From then he always knew a vineyard on the sunny slopes of Bride Valley would do well, but it was not until 2008 that he and Bella decided to take the plunge. With English Sparkling Wine becoming more firmly established, and knowing that Ian Edwards at the nearby Furleigh Estate would take care of their wine-making, they set off for the esteemed Pépinières Guillaume vine nursery in Burgundy, where they bought their first vines for planting.

The first Bride Valley harvest was in 2011, released in 2014 to much acclaim, and sold out very rapidly. There are now over 10 hectares under vine in Bride Valley, 55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier. In 2016, with the vines maturing, in addition to the increase in planting over time, they hoped for their best harvest to date.

Spending time with Steven is strangely relaxing. No doubt the surroundings help, not just in the vineyard, but also his 17th century home and colourful English country garden. However, it is so easy just to listen- he is softly spoken and enjoys telling stories of his 50-odd years in the wine industry. The conversation naturally flows, and I find myself hanging on his every word. The maestro. How much I could learn from this gentle and modest man.

steven spurrier

steven spurrier

Our discourse, of course, turns to the Judgement of Paris, which Steven organised in his wine school in Paris in 1976. French wine experts carried out a blind tasting of French and Californian wines, and were astonished when they realised the top spot in both categories, Chardonnay and Bordeaux/Cabernet, went to Napa! This changed the history of wine for ever, finally giving Napa Valley the credentials it so greatly deserved. The United States government decided in 2016 to fly the US flag over the United States Capitol on May 16th in recognition of Steven, celebrating the 40th anniversary of this momentous occasion in the history of Californian wine, an industry that now contributes more than $162billion to the US economy. He proudly yet humbly shows us the framed Resolution from the House of Representatives, and the flag itself which they subsequently sent to him, beautifully folded in a presentation case.

steven spurrier

steven spurrier

But I digress- we are treated to a tasting of the 2013 Blanc de Blancs and 2013 Rosé Bella in the garden room, surrounded by flowers and foliage, with a view to the garden, where a treehouse and swings indicate how much of a family home this is, how Steven and Bella clearly value family time with their grandchildren. First, the Blanc de Blancs- 95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier; disgorged after 15-18 months on the lees and released for the summer three years after the vintage. With a dosage of only 8g/L, this is dry, fresh & clean with crisp acidity, lively citrus and brioche notes, a fine persistent mousse and a chalky mineral finish- a truly elegant Blanc de Blancs.

Steven’s sparkling Rosé is named as a tribute to his right-hand woman, his lovely wife Bella. The Rosé Bella 2013 is 85% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier. The deep pink rose colour results from 24 hours on the Pinot Noir skins before fermentation, and the dominance of the black grape is evident on the nose and the palate with strong raspberry and strawberry notes, with a hint of citrus from the Chardonnay; fresh, dry, and beautifully balanced with a low dosage of 7 g/L- Steven favours this drier style. The luscious long finish perfects this “English Summer” in a glass. Only 750 bottles were made of this rare English beauty in 2013; we can only hope for more in the future! The Rosé is disgorged after 15 months on the lees, and released in the autumn 2 years after the vintage, and I believe the 2014 is now available.

steven spurrier

Steven with Sorcha & Tim

steven spurrier

While we savour these excellent wines, I ask Steven what he thinks the future holds for the English Sparkling Wine industry. He feels that the future is strong, yet while all the producers are currently like colleagues working together towards the same goal, he fears that larger commercial producers may upset the balance. He states that if the owners “continue to sing from the same hymn sheet, [they] should represent the best that England can produce- then we are all friends”.

Before leaving, I ask Steven what was his most memorable sparkling moment. He pauses to think for a minute, then smiles at me enigmatically and says with a chuckle that there are “too many bubbles to remember”.

Sorcha & Steven are currently working together on a weekend Wine Tour to Provence for Spring 2018. If you would like to register your interest now, email Sorcha at or sign up for our mailing list to be one of the first to know 

steven spurrier

Steven & Bella Spurrier


Discovering Cava in Catalunya

Cava tour

Cava bottle sizes at Freixenet

Cava in Catalunya

Let’s talk about Cava! It is little wonder that Wine Tourism is undergoing a surge all over the wine world, when you consider the typical climate, the beauty of wine regions, and most importantly, the end result. For lovers of bubbly, the options for wine tourism are more than one might think, with many still wine regions also producing sparkling. Today, however, we are concentrating on Cava in Catalunya – Cava is Spain’s traditional method sparkling wine. 95% of this famous Spanish bubbly is produced here, mostly in the area around the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.


cava tour

cava tour

cava tour

cava tour

From the mountains to the sea, the breathtaking landscapes of Catalunya provide both a perfect backdrop and a myriad of conditions in which to grow the traditional Cava vines. There is a lot more to Catalunya than Barcelona, yet visiting only the region’s capital is a mistake many tourists make. This is a stunning region for wine tourism, with an abundance of Cava houses to visit, both large and small, from the historic family houses of Codorníu and Freixenet, to the smaller artisanal producers such as Gramona and Llopart.

Catalan generosity and positive spirit provide a genuine feel-good factor wherever you go. The wineries really do welcome visitors, and are so proud to show you their extensive cellars and impressive winery buildings, often in the Modernist style of architecture.

Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel.lo vineyards abound- these are the most well-known varietals for Cava, although Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir and Trepat (Rosato only) are also permitted, and more recently, Chardonnay, which was authorised in 1986 and is the featured grape of Codorníu’s Anna range. No matter which time of the year you visit, the vineyards will always provide a learning experience, from winter pruning through bud burst, inflorescence and grape setting, veraison and full ripeness. It can be quite soothing to wander through the vines, enjoying the peace and the sounds of the countryside, while contemplating the time and effort that goes in to producing one single bottle of the finest fizz.

Prepare to be astonished by the extensive cellars of the larger Cava houses. Electric trains are frequently employed in ferrying visitors for miles underground, through ancient tunnels lined with riddling racks, emerging in to the stark contrast of the modern bottling and packing areas. It feels like quite an adventure through history and time! Each visit is different, and each winery has a different approach to the conduct of their tour, but if you get the balance right between the large and small houses you are sure to acquire an excellent knowledge of Cava and its production.

In the United Kingdom, since quality Cava is not widely available, and the supermarkets and large wine retailers sell mainly entry-level Cava, we tend to get little experience of the Reservas and Gran Reservas, which can be truly stunning wines. The best winery tastings, therefore, include these finer offerings, with their complex flavours and aromas, and persistent finish. Zero dosage (Brut Nature) is quite common in Cava production, the grape varieties providing enough interest on the palate through ripeness and their own characteristics to avoid any sense of austerity. One of my favourite memories of my last Cava tour is drinking Llopart’s Brut Nature Gran Reserva Original 1887 amongst its 75 year old Xare.lo vines, with the serrated mountain of Montserrat in the distance. Wine tourism truly does not get much better than that!

Other things to do in Catalunya, aside from drinking Cava!

In addition to vineyard and winery tours and tastings, many estates also offer additional activities, such as cycling through the vineyards, picnics amongst the vines, perhaps even watercolour  painting classes. Electric bikes are usually available for those less active amongst us so most people have the opportunity to enjoy this very special experience. Furthermore, the area is rich in cultural and religious heritage, including museums, art galleries, stunning modernist architecture, and elegant monasteries, both currently active and also those now converted to visitor attractions. No monastery is more deserving of a visit than Montserrat, perched high on the famous mountain of the same name, first founded in the 9th Century- a site of pilgrimage for millions, motivated by the legend that a visit to Montserrat absolves all sins!

catalunya wine tour

catalunya wine tour



Whether you choose to make your own Cava tour plans or prefer to have a dedicated wine tour specialist to organise everything for you, from travel and accommodation to winery visits and tastings, rest assured that a visit to Catalunya offers something for everyone, and the rich heritage of this fascinating region will leave you wanting more. You will also find yourself seeking out the finer Cavas that you never knew existed before your visit, but whose memory will linger on your palate for years to come.

We are currently planning a luxury wine tour to Catalunya with Spanish Wine Expert Sarah Jane Evans MW. If you would like us to send you details of this tour as soon as it is available, then please register your interest now by emailing or via the website contact form.

cava tour

Cheers from Sorcha in the vineyard at Llopart, Montserrat in the distance!

Tour to Rioja, June 2015- Part 3- Roda

2015_Jun_Rioja-1168 (1)

Bodegas Roda- Iconic Contemporary Riojan Winery- this is where it got emotional!

Truly. Moved. Humbled.

It is difficult to convey the emotions that stirred during our visit to this contemporary winery, the youngest in the Haro region of Rioja…

Founded in 1987 by Mario Rotillant Solá and Carmen Daurella De Aguilera and built over ancient cellars on the banks of the River Ebro, this modern yet magical winery provides an interesting contrast with the more traditional establishments. Starting with a photographic exhibition, our elegant hostess, Edurne, conducted us on our VIP tour through the immaculate winemaking areas. Although Roda cultivates 20 vineyards, all of bush vines, each year only the best 17 are chosen, and these grapes then fermented in the 17 vast tanks.

2015_Jun_Rioja-1171After malolactic fermentation in the specially designed bioclimatic cellar, the aging barrels are stored in deeper underground chambers, some purpose built, and some in ancient tunnels hewn out of the rock over a century before, the remains of an older disused winery on the site.


The transition from the high-tech modern bodega spaces to the 19th century cellars provides an interesting contrast. At one end of the cellars, there is a dedicated area which is linked to the Bodega’s wine bar. At the other end, there is an exit to a private dining terrace overlooking the river. It was here that we enjoyed our wine-tasting and VIP lunch accompanied by Roda’s four fine red wines, Sela, Roda, Roda 1, and their flagship wine, Cirsion. Cirsion is made from specially selected grapesassessed for maturity by the level of polymerisation of the tannins in the grapes, all from vines older than 45 years old, 100% Tempranillo

Traditional versus Modern Rioja has been the subject of much debate and discussion over recent times, and while we visited two traditional wineries on this tour, as well as two modern ones, it was this contemporary establishment of Roda that stole our hearts and brought a tear to our eyes, not just because of their exceptional Cirsion, but because of all four of their wines in synergy. My reviews of each of these wines on Vivino can be read below.

Bodegas Roda Sela 2012: 

A fabulous VIP visit to Bodegas Roda, the youngest of the Harò wineries, founded in 1987. They handpick all grapes which are all grown on Bush Vines! 20 vineyards, of which they select the best 17 each year which they ferment individually in their 17 fermentation tanks. All reds. Sela is their entry level wine, still from 15-30 yo vines, 96% Tempranillo, 3% Graciana, 1% Garnacha. Medium nose of cherry, plums & cassis. Dry, medium acidity, smooth medium tannins, beautifully balanced; flavours of cherry and redcurrants, long finish. Exceptional wine at this price bracket. Delightful with mini-tostados with olive oil, and cold Spanish meats…


Roda Rioja Reserva 2010: 

During the ageing process, the individual vineyards are sampled from the barrels to assess which have a tendency to red fruits, & which to black… Roda Reserva is the red fruit option. 90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano. Medium Ruby colour, medium nose of red cherry & raspberry. Dry, medium acidity, well-integrated tannins, intense cherry flavours + raspberry & some oak. A beautiful wine offering exceptional value for money. When paired with bread & olive oil a synergistic explosion of flavour. Long finish.


Roda 1 Rioja Reserva 2007: 

3rd of 4 from Roda. Might keep the 4th for my 300th review, it’s that good! If you read my last review for Roda Reserva you will understand that this one is all geared to the black fruit… All bush vines! By the way, it was my birthday on Friday, no better way to spend it than a day in Harò with a VIP lunch at Roda overlooking the Ebro… 100% Tempranillo. Pronounced nose of deep ripe plums and violets. Dry, high acidity, full of body with high silky tannins. Flavours of blackberry, black cherry & plum, paired with cold Spanish meats, Tortilla Española and cheese. A long happy birthday of a finish.


Roda Cirsion 2010: 

My 300th review on Vivino! You’ve already seen my ramblings from our visit to Roda, and this, my friends, was the highlight of the Rioja tour… Highlight of my year so far! This beautiful wine is made from selected bunches of grapes from selected old vines which have been tested for maturity in the lab by assessing the level of polymerisation in the seeds, I believe… So although young, the quality and maturity of the grapes themselves results in the production of this exceptional wine. 

Only 6-8 months in new French oak, followed by 1 year in the bottle before release. Deep ruby colour, almost opaque; intense nose of black fruits and violets, chocolate & mint with earthy notes, stunning! Tear in my eye!

On the palate, full-bodied, med+ acidity, high in velvety tannin, blackberry, blackcurrant, chocolate, tobacco & earthiness all in perfect harmony. So elegant, so emotional… I feel so honoured and privileged to taste this truly exceptional wine.

We look forward eagerly to our next visit to Bodegas Roda, which will be in April 2016. If you would like to find out more about this wine tour to Rioja, please call us on +44 1752 662801.

Tour to Rioja, June 2015- Part 2- Marqués de Riscal

2015_Jun_Rioja-1046Our first 24 hours in Rioja were devoted to the Marqués de Riscal City of Wine. However, what could be more important than the winery tour itself? After a lovely breakfast on the terrace overlooking Elciego, we made our way to the Visitors’ Centre to meet the start of the tour. So many tourists pass through the City of Wine every day! We felt slightly smug that we were staying in the hotel here. We met a couple that day who had travelled over two hours from San Sebastián especially to visit the Marqués de Riscal! We started off with an audio-visual presentation in the contemporary wing of the winery before proceeding to view the exterior, both the historic and contemporary architecture in juxtaposition, and the surrounding vineyards, so beautifully tended, and already showing great promise in early grape development. It was so beautiful to be there amongst the vines, warm Spanish sun beating down, listening to the birdsong…

Back indoors, however, to tour the ancient buildings which date from 1860. Our guide gave an excellent explanation of the entire winemaking process, through from harvest, pressing and de-stemming, fermentation, blending, to ageing and bottling, matched, of course to whichever part of the winery we were currently in. There is something quite humbling about standing in the presence of these vast fermentation tanks, something reassuring about the pristine cleanliness, and something oddly comforting, for me anyway, in the sense of order in the ageing cellars, where the barricas rest in the peace and quiet…

For me, the scents of a winery are very distinctive; I can imagine you could tell exactly where you are by the smell… After we passed through the endless immaculate cellars, we came to the modern botelleria, but not before visiting the old bottle store, where the oldest and most treasured vintages are stored. In the modern bottling plant, we passed through two vast rooms containing many million bottles of wine, how overwhelming! This is an incredibly busy place: bottling, corking, labelling, packing and loading for shipping, all running smoothly if quite noisily!










Last but not least, of course, we arrived at the well-appointed Tasting Room. Below you will find the reviews I posted on on the different Marqués de Riscal wines we tasted over this 24 hours; ratings are out of 5* as per Vivino.

Tempranillo Seleccionado Bodegas 2013

Not a bad welcome- in our room on arrival at Marqués de Riscal… An aperitif before our fabulous arrival dinner… An easy drinker for sure; produced by Marqués de Riscal but from Castilla y Leon, not Rioja… Medium nose of red fruits and all the mediums on the palate, tannins very well-rounded; possibly a little cloying but a crowd-pleaser I’m sure. A nice gesture on arrival… 3*

Rioja Crianza Arienzo 2012

A blend of 90% Tempranillo and 5% each of Mazuelo & Graciana, and aged for 18 months in American oak, this Crianza was part of our set Menu de Riscal yesterday… A medium nose of red cherries and redcurrants, with prominent notes of coconut and vanilla; medium body and acidity with high tannins; also flavours of red cherry and vanilla… Medium finish. Paired exceptionally well with an unusual dish of cod with peppers in a spicy tomato sauce, and also with veal cheek… 3.5*

Rioja Reserva 2010

Wine can only taste better I’m sure after a fantastic winery tour… How I loved the old cellars! The order appeals to me… It was all so aesthetically pleasing! This 2010 Reserva has a medium Ruby colour with an intense oaky nose; also notes of cherries, balsamic spices & vanilla; On the palate, dry with high acidity, high alcohol & high tannin; a little light on the fruit but with a savoury medium+ finish. I would love to try this after an hour or two in a decanter, or tasting again in a few years… 4*

Rueda Verdejo 2014

Again, all the better for drinking in its home of Marqués de Riscal… Pronounced nose of citrus and green fruit; dry on the palate with medium acidity, which always suits me in a white; fresh and crisp with green fruits, especially gooseberry (so a tad bitter) but perfectly refreshing on a hot Spanish day. Medium + finish. 3.5*

Rioja Gran Reserva 2005

Finally we come to the Gran Reserva to complete the set at Marqués de Riscal at the end of a wonderful day… 90% Tempranillo, 8% Graciana, 2% Mazuelo, old vines of more than 80 years old; aged in French oak for 32 months plus 3 years in the bottle. This is a deep inky ruby-garnet, almost opaque… This richness is conveyed also in both the nose and the body… Pronounced nose of blackcurrant with balsamic spicy notes, and some oaky toastiness… Dry, full bodied, medium acidity, medium + tannins which are smooth and well-integrated; blackcurrant and berries give good fruitiness which balances so well with the tannins; long lingering finish… Rioja as it’s supposed to be! 4.5*

Stay tuned for our reviews of Roda, R.Lopez de Heredia and Vivanco, coming soon!

Our First Tour to Rioja, June 2015- Part 1

“Because, afrioja wine tour marques de riscalter all, wine is about joy and pleasure” – A quote by Frank Gehry, renowned architect behind the flagship 5* hotel of the Rioja region, the Luxury Collection Marqués de Riscal… We whole-heartedly, agree, Frank, and experienced much joy and pleasure indeed during our recent sojourn at this breathtaking edifice on our first Rioja wine tour, our base for exploring the fine wineries of the region. The Marqués de Riscal hotel is, of course, part of the City of Wine that incorporates the historic winery of Marqués de Riscal, the luxury hotel, and the Caudalie Vinotherapie® Spa…

Marqués de Riscal- Rioja Wine Tour

This City of Wine is situated on the edge of the beautiful village of Elciego, about 30km from Haro, the capital of the Rioja region. The beautiful sandstone of the area’s buildings is incorporated into Gehry’s design, with steel and titanium, all blending well together and with the environment. Our tour here lasted four nights, in perfect June weather with highs in the region of 30ºC. We visited four wineries on this Rioja wine tour, the Marqués de Riscal, Roda, R. Lopez de Heredia and Dinastia Vivanco, and will report on these visits individually in subsequent blogs.

rioja wine tour frank gehry designed hotel

The Marqués de Riscal hotel was the perfect oasis in which to rest and recover between visits. There are three options for dining: light meals and tapas in the Vinoteca, the traditional Bistrò1860, and the Michelin-starred Restaurant Marqués de Riscal. We started our visit with the Menu de Riscal in The Bistrò 1860, as we also intend to do on future tours here. We enjoyed very much the fine Riojan Cava Dioro Baco and our meal was accompanied by the MdR Arienzo Crianza.

The hotel’s Vinotherapie® Spa provides many options for relaxation. Aside from the stylish black-tiled pool, which reflects the red of the walls to fit with the wine theme, the jacuzzi and steam-room, there are a myriad of options for spa treatments. All the treatments have a relation to wine, with many of the products derived from the wine making process, and you can even bathe in wine! We had to give it a go, of course, and I’ve included a photo of the barrel for the treatment below. We also recommend a massage- excellent, and just what you need after a hard day touring wineries!

rioja wine tour vinotherapie

I’ve already mentioned the beautiful village of Elciego, with it’s old sandstone houses and historic cathedral, of which one could never tire of the views from MdR. We also visited Haro, Riojan capital, and since it was fiesta time there was a fun atmosphere with a lot going on. We were invited to partake in a free public wine tasting in the main plaza! However, the most important part of our trip was, of course, the winery visits. This Rioja Wine Tour is likely to become one of our signature wine tours for the foreseeable future, and we expect it should run annually if you would like to join us. Why not register your interest by emailing

rioja wine tour relaxation area

Stay tuned for our blog reports for the individual winery visits and wine-tastings. If you’d like to visit my profile on Vivino to view my wine reviews in the meantime, click here.